Borat : The truth is that I didn’t find Borat that funny. Its just not my sort of humour. And for the record, I watched the first hour and was happy to leave it there. With the benefit of some reflection however I can appreciate what a clever man Borat’s alter ego, Sacha Baron Cohen, really is.
On screen we see Borat as a somewhat bumbling, naïve but determined Kazakhstanie, travel to America to understand its culture and be better able to help his homeland. Borat hates Jews, gays and the neighbouring Uzbeks but it becomes clear he recognises neither when he meets them later on. He is as much a product of his cultural upbringing as any of us.
It those ‘cultural differences’ that Cohen exploits as Borat to embarrass or provoke his American hosts that provides the staple of his humour in this film (for example, interviewing a group of New York feminists about the role of woman in society).
Where I found Cohen to be sharpest however was his aim to highlight how xenophobic and reactionary we can all be when we rely only what we have been told and do not challenge issues in our own minds.
At the rodeo, we can almost see Cohen think, ‘right, you guys are going to get it,’ after being confronted by the rodeo chief who asks if Borat is a Muslim : “You’re not a Mus-lim are you fellah ? That mus-tache sure makes you look like one. We don’t care for them types here.” The local man misses Borat’s response when he says follows the mighty hawk. It is clear that this man has never met a Muslim and wouldn’t know one even if one rode up on a horse.
Invited to sing the Kazakhstanie national anthem at the rodeo, Borat first tells the crowd how delighted he is by their “terror war” and escalates his remarks to be more and more outrageous. While not sure if they misheard or misunderstood, most of the crowd’s initial, lusty cheers are met with confusion. Finally they boo him off stage when he sings the national anthem to the tune of Stars and Stripes : “Kazakhstan, greatest country in the world, all other countries are run by the gays…”
Cohen modifies his behaviour depending on who he is talking to, a subtlety I suspect Borat would be unable to discern. To the black street gang he is respectful and not quite so provocative. To the well-bred he is as politically incorrect as he can be all the while demonstrating a keen sense of timing and humourous one liners.